On Sunday, NYC Mayor Eric Adams announced his intention to remove the indoor mask and vaccine mandates for venues including bars, restaurants, and event spaces beginning March 7. For months, the city’s vaccine passport (a.k.a.”Key to N.Y.C.”) was checked by “vaccine bouncers” at local haunts in an effort to keep both employees and patrons safe from Covid-19, but less than a week from now, establishments may no longer be required to check vax cards at their doors.
While this move has sparked some controversy from medical professionals and concerned locals alike, some excitedly gear up to return to their favorite hotspots, masks optional.
“It comes with obvious risk, removing this layer of protection,” says Alexis Percival, co-owner and sommelier at Kindred and Ruffian in NYC’s East Village. “And it has a downside for people who may be immunocompromised — a good reason to codify outdoor dining in a way that is safe for the neighbors, guests, and businesses.”
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While Percival and her business partner Moshe Schulman have long taken significant measures to keep their staff safe (including closing their indoor space even when others in the city reopened) they believe the mandate’s end could signal a positive shift for hospitality workers. “I get the feeling from the staff that they are ready to remove their masks,” Percival says. “On a more mundane level, it removes a step of the door person’s duty while staffing is still short and it’s time consuming to get guests in the door and seated.”
John Winterman, owner of Brooklyn’s Francie restaurant, says the relaxed mandate is unlikely to change much when it comes to his employees’ day-to-day lives, as the restaurant hasn’t been enforcing the mask policy for some time. “Some people, when they come in, wear a mask, and as soon as we check their vaccine status, they take it off,” he says. “So the masks weren’t really making much of a difference.”
As for the increased potential for welcoming in unvaccinated customers, both Percival and Winterman agree that they believe that their clientele largely falls into the 76.9 percent of NYC residents who are fully vaccinated. “We haven’t had conflicts with guests attempting to dine without it,” Percival says, “So it’s cumbersome to be checking people at the door who are already compliant and willing to be as safe as possible for themselves and staff.” And at Francie, Winterman says, staff have only had to turn away maybe two people over the course of the past couple of months.
But with a concern for his workers’ safety, Winterman says he plans to continue checking diners’ vaccinations at the door for the time being — a choice he says the city must make more clear to its residents: “Covid is not less transmissible on March 8 versus March 7, you know?”
While Franice may relax its rules as cases continue to drop, at Kindred and Ruffian, mandates will be removed per city guidelines, with diners concerned for their safety still given the option to sit outside or request that their server wear a mask. “Also, the extra cleaning, sanitizing, and air purifying protocols of the last two years are ingrained in us now and won’t be going away,” Percival says.
While patrons will no longer be asked to provide proof of vaccination, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine insists that employees at restaurants and bars will still need to do so — a result of the city’s focus on increasing tourism. That means hospitality workers who remain unvaccinated will still be incentivized to get their shots.
As restaurant staff prepare for the upcoming shift, they’re also aware by now that when it comes to the ongoing pandemic, nothing is permanent. “If we’ve learned anything it’s that this virus, and the circumstances it creates, are mutable. We will roll with what is safest for our guests, staff, and city,” says Percival. “Fingers crossed we are moving forward and not backwards.”